My next full day of wine tasting took me north and inland to the rolling hills and winding country roads of Paso Robles.
My first stop was Justin. Style-wise the winery (which also has an inn and a restaurant), is a mix of California country, Tuscany and Provence. Before visiting the European castle-inspired tasting room, take a stroll through the English garden. You feel immediately happy and relaxed, and ready to enjoy the beautiful scenery with a nice glass of wine.
I started the tasting with Justin’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. It was a great first sip for the hot and sunny day. The wine has crisp and refreshing flavors of grapefruit, pineapple, lemon and melon, and would make a delicious pairing with seafood. A bottle of the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc costs $15.
On the red side, I couldn’t decide which I liked more: the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon or the 2007 Syrah (so I ended up ordering a couple bottles of both). The Cabernet Sauvignon is soft and luscious with layers of red and black fruit and a hint of vanilla and caramel. The Syrah has delicious flavors of blackberry, cassis and spice, rounded out by elegant tannins. Both wines cost $26.25.
My favorite red overall was the 2006 Isosceles. It’s a Bordeaux style blend with 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot. The wine has lush flavors of blackberry, cassis, mocha and leather, with a touch of vanilla and smoke in the lingering finish. Well-integrated tannins give it a velvety mouthfeel. It’s a special occasion wine at $62 a bottle.
I also really enjoyed the Orphan, a red blend that costs less than $20. The wine is a mix of all the “orphaned” barrels — juice that wasn’t used in other wines. It’s lighter in body than Justin’s other reds, with bright flavors of cherry, raspberry and plum with a touch of spice. It makes a great party wine and pairs nicely with a variety of poultry, red meat and pasta dishes. The Orphan costs $18.50.
If you enjoy Port style dessert wines, you won’t want to miss the 2007 Obtuse. It’s 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that has been fortified and aged for 10 months in neutral French oak. The wine is dark ruby in color, with jammy flavors of blackberries, cherries and plum with a hint of dark chocolate. It’s delicious with chocolate desserts and blue cheeses. A 750ml bottle costs $26.25 and a 375ml bottle costs $15.95.
After leaving Justin I visited Tablas Creek Vineyard for a taste of its Rhône varietals. This winery was created in the late 1980s in the style of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard. Through a partnership with Château de Beaucastel from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in southern France, Tablas Creek imported vine cuttings from the French estate to ensure that they would have the same high quality and genetic source.
Tablas Creek’s flagship white wine is the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. The 2007 vintage is 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc and 10% Picpoul Blanc. It was my favorite of their white wines, with flavors of green apple, honey and spice balanced out with good minerality and bright acids. A bottle of the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc costs $40.
The 2007 Côtes de Tablas Blanc is a less expensive alternative at $25. This aromatic wine is 38% Viognier, 25% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne and 17% Grenache Blanc that has been fermented in stainless steel. It has clean flavors of golden apple and orange blossom with a lingering finish of white peach.
Tablas Creek makes a really tasty Chardonnay called Antithesis. The 2007 vintage is 100% Chardonnay that was fermented in neutral oak and stainless steel barrels. The result is a wine that stays true to the varietal’s character. It’s a mix of spiced pear, golden apple, citrus and butter that culminates in a crisp and clean finish. A bottle costs $22.95.
Tablas Creek does a great job of blending red Rhône varietals for the right balance of fruit, spice, earth and structure. My favorite red is their flagship red, the Esprit de Beaucastel. I tried both the 2005 and 2006 vintages and prefered the ’05 just slightly more (it was tough, they’re both very good). The 2005 vintage is 44% Mourvèdre, 26% Grenache Noir, 25% Syrah and 5% Counoise (the 2006 vintage has roughly the same percentage of each grape). The wine has flavors of ripe plum, red cherry, pepper and nutmeg, with well-balanced acidity and gentle tannins. Serve it with poultry and red meat dishes. Both the 2005 and 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel cost $45.
Tablas Creek’s less expensive red is the Côtes de Tablas. The 2006 vintage is 72% Grenache Noir, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvèdre and 8% Counoise. The taste is of juicy cherries and pepper, with a hint of licorice on the finish. It makes a nice pairing for grilled steaks and pasta with meat sauce. A bottle of the 2006 Côtes de Tablas costs $25.
I also really enjoyed Tablas Creek’s 2005 Syrah. It’s 90% Syrah with 10% Grenache Noir to add extra fruit and acidity. The wine has spicy flavors of black cherry, pepper and dark chocolate with smoke on the finish. It’s perfect for steak or lamb. A bottle of the 2005 Syrah costs $35.
Two wineries down, only 136 to go. With the afternoon to fit all of them in, I’ll definitely need to plan another trip to Paso Robles.
For more information on Justin Vineyards & Winery visit www.justinwine.com.
For more information on Tablas Creek Vineyard visit www.tablascreek.com.